Julie Lee – The Last Star of Sexploitation

Today – 9 May 2013 – marks the 30th anniversary of a small, and tragic, footnote in the history of the British sex industry. On this day in 1983 a beautiful young woman named Julean Moxon died in the intensive care unit of Wexham Park Hospital in Slough, aged only 28. Just a few days earlier she had been involved in a major car accident near the Datchet junction on the M4. Her Mercedes had skidded off the motorway, hit a lamp-post and ploughed down 50 yards of fencing before exploding into a fireball. When Thames Valley police arrived on the scene, officers were shocked by her injuries, but had little idea that the woman with the horrific burns and broken neck had recently been one of the top box office ‘draws’ in British cinema. Three decades later Julean has been all but forgotten, but for a brief spell in 1981 she was a genuine sex superstar. Under the name ‘Julie Lee’ she appeared in David Sullivan’s baffling sex comedy-drama, Emmanuelle in Soho, which under another title – the eerily prophetic Funeral in Soho – had been intended as a 1979 movie vehicle for Mary Millington.

Emmanuelle in Soho

Born to a Chinese mother and English father, Julie was raised in a humble Victorian terrace in the Hillsborough area of Sheffield, but  she had aspirations of a high-flying modelling career. Ruthlessly ambitious, she relocated to London in the late-1970s, where she allegedly started working as an escort and a ‘camera club’ model. Julie certainly had few qualms about taking her clothes off; she invested in breast enlargement surgery and soon found herself posing topless as a ‘Chinese charmer’ in the pages of the Daily Mirror. She also had dreams of becoming an actress, but a lead role in Ken Rowles’ proposed 1979 sex comedy Ups and Downs of a Soccer Star sadly came to nothing. Then, 12 months later, Julie’s path crossed with David Sullivan, who was looking for girls to appear in his new production, Emmanuelle in Soho. “Julie Lee said that she’d do a film for nothing,” recalled the movie’s writer John East in 2001, “on condition that she got the lead role. He agreed, so we were landed with this girl who couldn’t act for toffee.”

Julie’s lamentable acting, and flat Yorkshire vowels, did little to diminish the appeal of Emmanuelle in Soho, which, unusually for a home-grown sex flick, was not screened first in London’s West End, but debuted some 165 miles away. The film premièred at Sheffield’s Classic cinema on 4 July 1981, attended by ‘local hero’ Julie Lee. Five days later it opened at the Eros cinema on Piccadilly Circus, where it played solidly for 10 weeks, raking in over £35,000. It then transferred to the Moulin in Great Windmill Street, where it ran for a further 25 consecutive weeks. Thanks to Julie’s exotic looks Emmanuelle in Soho was also a big hit in Hong Kong, where the hardcore version was exhibited in cinemas for nearly three astonishing years.

Julie Lee Emmanuelle in Soho

Unfortunately, the huge commercial success of Emmanuelle in Soho did not launch Julie Lee into the world of A-list celebrity as she had hoped. She made only one further movie appearance, in Mary Millington’s World Striptease Extravaganza (1982); this time Sullivan thought it better that she wasn’t given any dialogue at all. But, by then, the sexploitation film industry was all but dead, and Julie had failed in her quest to become the ‘new Mary Millington’.

Friends recall that, at the time, Julie was sleeping with a selection box of wealthy and famous clients who ‘got her into bad company’. She allegedly began dealing in cocaine to make ends meet, and a tragic air of desperation seemed to follow her wherever she went. Somewhat ironically, it was only in death that she finally made front-page news. After her appalling accident the Sun newspaper printed a full page photograph of Julie under the headline: ‘Sex film star Julie trapped in fireball.’ In an interview with the paper David Sullivan was quoted as saying, rather tellingly: ‘Oh, poor Julie. Her face and body were her fortune.’ And so what had begun with Pamela Green in Harrison Marks’ London studios in the 1950s, finally ended with Julie Lee in a Berkshire hospital 25 years later, and marked the sad, if not wholly unexpected, demise of British cinema’s colourful love affair with sexploitation.

All words © Simon Sheridan 2013-2014-2015

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